Air Force Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer program announces FY21 Open Topic schedule

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  • Air Force Research Laboratory Public Affairs
The Air Force Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer program announced the release schedule for Fiscal Year 2021 open topics during day two of the AFWERX Accelerate event.

In coordination with the Department of Defense, AFWERX will release three open topics. The first call opens on Jan. 14 and closes Feb. 18, 2021, while the others open in May and September and close after 30 days.

In FY19, AF SBIR/STTR expanded the use of the open topics solicitation process to address areas of importance to the Air and Space Force. U.S. Air Force Col. Nathan Diller, AFWERX director, explained the many benefits of using this process during the livestreamed event.

“With this approach, we can match problems with solutions from an expanded ecosystem,” Diller said. “Innovation matching allows the Air Force to reach solutions faster by taking advantage of innovative thinkers in a competitive, low-risk environment.”

Day two of the AFWERX Accelerate event also featured Jason Rathje, AFVentures managing partner, who discussed AFVentures as the commercial investment arm of the Air Force. He also provided insight into the Air and Space Force’s interests in using loans and credit to help grow the industrial base.

“AFVentures leverages commercial technology to deliver better capabilities to warfighters faster,” Rathje said. “We are committed to becoming a preferred partner for small business technology development.”

AFVentures leverages SBIR/STTR funding and private capital to deliver military capabilities, expand the industrial base for defense and grow the U.S. economy. Rathje explained that the AF SBIR/STTR program has awarded hundreds of contracts based on end-user needs.

Following a panel discussion for companies, several small business leaders shared their experiences working with AFWERX.

“I believe that AFWERX has made it frictionless for small businesses like us to be able to get in this process,” said Kyle Gillis, Iconic Air CEO and co-founder.

“The Air Force met us where we were…they were incredibly collaborative and forward thinking and helped us map out what we were doing against the justifications and requirements and goals they wanted to see and that was shocking and wonderful,” said Kay Sheils, Chief Financial Officer of ICON Technology Inc.

Jimmy Colraine, an AFVentures partner, moderated a panel discussion for investors that examined the advantages and challenges of investing in the DoD SBIR ecosystem from the perspective of venture capitalists and other investors. Participants discussed how the investment community engages with the AFVentures process, essentially co-investing with the Department of the Air Force.

While commenting on current market trends, Katherine Boyle, a partner in the venture capital firm General Catalyst, noted, “It has never been cooler to work on aerospace and defense.”

Day two also included an overview of AFVentures’s response to COVID-19 and academic research into recent reforms to SBIR/STTR. Day three of AFWERX Accelerate, which begins at 12 p.m. EST, Dec. 9, will focus on all the ways Airmen and Space Professionals can get involved with AFWERX and drive innovation within the Department of the Air Force. AFWERX will also review Spark, which aims to build networks of problem solvers.

To register and learn more about AFWERX Accelerate, visit For a live feed of event activities, visit or beginning at 12 p.m. EST through Dec. 11.